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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Chmielewski

5 Car Warning Signs You Can Smell

Vehicles often tell us when something is wrong. Maybe you hear a funny sound, or a warning light pops up on your dashboard. Another way your car tries to communicate with you is through smell.

Unpleasant or unusual odors, if ignored, can lead to costly repairs or increase the risk of an accident. To save yourself time and money, discover five smells to pay attention to.

1. Sweet Syrup

Who doesn't love the smell of warm pancakes covered in maple syrup? Unfortunately, this isn't an aroma you want to experience while behind the wheel.

If it smells like you just drove past an IHOP, chances are you're smelling ethylene glycol, a component in coolant and antifreeze. The liquid may have leaked into your radiator or a hose, allowing the smell to spread throughout your car.

This type of leak could be a simple fix — perhaps you need a new hose or heating core. It may also signal an issue with your radiator. If ignored, your radiator could run dry or your heating system might break down.

2. Burnt Rubber

Have you ever seen someone do a burnout — spin their tires while staying motionless? The black smoke produces a pungent odor that sticks in your nose and hangs in the air. This smell is one you might encounter while driving, and it almost always signals a problem.

The smell of burnt rubber could happen after hard or sudden braking. It might also indicate an issue with a belt that's shifting or about to break. Or, a hose could be loose and rubbing up against another component under the hood.

If you experience this smell and it doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with a trusted mechanic.

3. Gasoline

Do you notice a gasoline smell in your car? If you didn't just fill up, this odor could mean there's a fuel leak somewhere, such as in the gas tank or fuel injector line. It could also point to a cracked or faulty gas cap that's allowing fuel to evaporate into the air around you -- an issue that can reduce your fuel efficiency by 1% to 2%.

The first step is to check your gas cap. Does it tighten properly? Are there any cracks around the inside seal? If you can’t find any issue, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with a mechanic. Leaking gas is a fire hazard, and overlooking the problem could lead to more damage down the line.

4. Dirty Socks

If you notice the smell of dirty, sweaty socks, the first step is to look in your back seat. Did you leave your gym bag back there? If not, your car may be trying to tell you something.

This unmistakable smell could be the result of mildew in your air conditioner evaporator — often due to condensation or high humidity. If you ignore it, the odor may cause allergic reactions, such as watery eyes, headaches, sneezing and difficulty breathing.

To get rid of the odor, try running your fan on high with the air conditioning off. If that trick doesn't work, you may need to request a full cleaning by your mechanic.

5. Rotten Eggs

No one wants to breathe in the aroma of rotten eggs while driving. If it smells like you forgot a batch of deviled eggs in the trunk, it could mean a problem with your car’s catalytic converter.

This odor often forms when the catalytic converter is not properly forming hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust. It could also signal a problem with your engine, as a poorly running motor can cause the catalytic converter to become overloaded and fail.

If you notice this smell, don’t wait — get to a mechanic right away who can pinpoint and fix the problem.

Don’t Ignore These 5 Smells

Your vehicle might not be able to talk, but it can still communicate with you. These smelly car warning signs will tell you everything you need to know about a potential problem.

If you experience one of the odors above, schedule an appointment with a mechanic. They’ll be able to diagnose the problem and get you driving safely once again.

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